When I was a kid in Canada, cooties were a big social problem.
For anyone lucky enough never to have come into contact with cooties, they’re an imaginary affliction, as undesirable as lice or fleas. If kids decide another kid has cooties, it means open season on that kid: OK to ostracise them, bully them, etc. Cooties are really hard to get rid of, once word gets round and there’s a consensus that you really do have them. You can get immunised by a kind friend with a cootie shot, but life is still dodgy if you’ve been known to have them.
Wiki says most kids over 10 stop using the term, but it’s a concept that never goes away. It turns into thinking about “us” and “them”; about the human and the sub-human.
Simon Scarrow’s new novel about the siege of Malta in 1565 comes out in a couple of weeks. Called Sword and Scimitar, it describes a turning point in history where the Ottoman Empire might have conquered Europe. In the siege, neither the Christian nor Muslim armiess behaved well, and Simon’s thesis is only that the world as we know it could have been very different.
Right now, with religion being such a volatile subject, you can imagine how hard it’s been to arrive at marketing that doesn’t suggest that a whole load of nice people aren’t perfectly good human beings. You can’t blame people for their forebears.
One of my other clients was fired recently by his publisher. My job now is not just to find him a good home, but to give him a load of cootie shots so he doesn’t seem “untouchable” by other publishers. As much as I’d like to think it’s his publisher who’s got the cooties right now, I’m busy burnishing his already-shining qualities as a writer, and throwing over him the mantle of my (hopefully cootie-free) agency reputation.
Forget a cure for the common cold. Let’s put a whole lot of research behind a cure for cooties.